by alisa dollar
I walked through the door, immediately knowing I’d taken a wrong turn.
Looking around, there were those in a variance of ages ten years below mine to ten years above. Vietnam. Funny how eras and wars have distinct markings. This particular war often wears disillusionment - like an old glove, one-size-fits-all...now misshapen, frazzled and well worn...yet durable and still in use. Eyes warily observed my entrance. No hearty welcome, no ambivalence in acknowledgment of my presence, just a thorough and guarded examination. Oppression overwhelming me, I turned to escape, find my proper path, anywhere but here-yet another trait of my era.
In route to safer ground, I noticed the dollhouse.
Elegant and magnificently built, trimmed to perfection, brimming with exquisite furnishings, it sat on a pedestal-like table near the center of the room. Drawn to its beauty, I commented on its craftsmanship, immediately evoking an almost animated conversation concerning the dollhouse and its history. The man, Karl, who seemed to be the head of design, walked me in and out of every room, missing not one nook or cranny. The love, the art, the painstaking patience in building from top to bottom, inside
and out was evident in the workmanship as well as the voices of its creators. Their excitement contagious, I found myself wondering why I had been too busy to build a dollhouse for the pure joy of accomplishment.
It was then I looked around the room seeing multiple arts and crafts in varying degrees of completion from unopened boxes to displays on shelves and walls. Dianne, the social worker and taskmaster of the group, proudly informed me the dollhouse had
placed second in a national contest. Suddenly awareness unfolded - I was in the craft
room of the regional VA hospital. These veterans hadn’t been too busy, as I had claimed for myself. They were busy rebuilding their lives in a restorative manner. The construction of the dollhouse, furnishing through and through, from wall, to floor, windows to furniture - starting from a box - ending with a home, symbolized the healing energy and sometimes silent comradery of my peer. Home.
Yes, the marks of ‘Nam vary, as do with most wars. This war carries more emotional scars perhaps than others. Blemishes caused by unrest among our own rather than those on whose soil we fought. Persons raced through my head - past and present. Bill left home a young innocent at eighteen, joining the Army to make his mark and came home a brother changed - and yes - forever marked. He addresses his service simply by his quiet demeanor, choosing to bear his wounds within. Ted, whom I know only by his memory, served his tour by way of Air Force, returning and giving more by nursing in a veterans’ hospital. He applied his service by continuing the cause through his profession, only to be taken by that silent but deadly agent, we cautiously
call orange. Glenn, served as a Marine, with a flair characteristic of his very nature: “I’m here; I’m ready; Let’s go.” He confronts his service through excellent writing skills, thereby filtering knowledge to those unknowing. The vets surrounding the dollhouse
bear the earmark of being unkindly labeled and categorized a group deemed less worthy than veterans of other wars.
My own marks lay heavy within my soul, burdening my spirit.
You see, I am not a veteran. I found myself to be one of the label makers of this group. I strove for understanding.
I pulled and tugged in my quest for understanding of why some served without question while others balked to the point of denouncing the very citizenship and freedom others fought to maintain. In my youth, I never questioned my brother’s wisdom and loyalty. However, my blindness to his cause didn’t allow his fear to reach my own intellect. That I loved him was absolute. That I feared for him was undisputed. When he boarded the bus for boot camp and eventually Viet Nam, the warring factions of right and wrong began the turmoil inside my heart. The anger inside me quieted in respect to his service, although I still didn’t understand his plight. His silence squelched my questions. My pursuit to understanding yet unfulfilled.
Years down the road, Ted’s widow came into my life. Her husband a Viet Nam vet, had proudly served and would have done so again. Why? I wondered, but didn’t ask. Understanding evaded still. I so respect her composed acceptance of his life and eventual death - caused in part by what some still ignore - Agent Orange. He may not
have died in battle on foreign soil, but he certainly died loyal to his beliefs and his country. The pride in his widow’s eyes mix in contradiction with her silent grief. Balance. Understanding through his memory slowly began to seep through.
As a writer, I have had the privilege of meeting Glenn, an ex-Marine. Today, he uses the training from Viet Nam in his profession of security. More importantly, he has the ability to write and applies his experiences vividly within his novels. As a reader of his works-in-progress, dawning of what these young men and women faced encompassed me and I found myself conscience-stricken. Though fiction, I sensed
fervor and passion within his words. His storytelling hastened my trip to grasping what I’d been seeking.
It took getting lost in the craft room of the VA hospital for this knowledge to come full circle. These men and women, unknown to me, started to open the doors. Faces began to have names--Karl, Dianne, Gregg, Al, Don–with more added each day. I found myself wanting the very thing they sought - acceptance...and understanding.
A frequent visitor these days, I am still learning. Still trying to give back what I stole not only from myself, but their labeling. I am trying to give back what I took.
The dollhouse has become a symbol in my eyes of what it’s all about. Home. Whether a dollhouse, family home or America. It has a right to be. A right to stand. A right to be beautiful. Most importantly, a right to be free.